PHILADELPHIA -- When Hiroki Kuroda got hit in the head with a Rusty Ryal line drive on Aug. 15 in Arizona, thoughts about the potential of him figuring into the Dodgers' postseason plans were blurred by concerns for his health and ability to bounce back from such a scary event.
Displaying some of that fight that manager Joe Torre has come to appreciate, Kuroda returned to the mound two weeks later and gave the Dodgers further reason to hope that he could indeed play a factor in their bid to find playoff success.
Kuroda's availability for the postseason once again became questionable when he encountered a stiff neck during his Sept. 28 start against the Pirates. But knowing what the Japanese right-hander had done against the Phillies throughout his career, Torre opted to fly to the club's Spring Training headquarters in Arizona on Tuesday to see him pitch.
"Unless there was something that just was uncomfortable to watch, you know, I was of a mind that I wanted him to be on this squad and be able to pitch," Torre said. "But he looked a lot more comfortable than I anticipated he would be."
Kuroda's impressive audition led Torre to schedule him to start Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Phillies on Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Loves to face.: Ryan Howard, 0-for-8, 4 K. Hates to face: Chase Utley, 2-for-7, 2B.
Loves to face: Kemp, Loney and Ethier are combined 1-for-10. Hates to face: Manny Ramirez, 6-for-14, 2 HR.
Why he'll win: Pitched well against the Phillies including Dodgers' only win in 2008 NLCS.
Why he'll win: Phillies won his two starts against Rockies.
Pitcher beware: Herniated disk in neck kept him out of NLDS.
Pitcher beware: 249 IP including playoffs are a career high.
Bottom line: Much depends on his health.
Bottom line: Has been the ace the Phillies expected.
During Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS, Kuroda limited the Phillies to two runs and five hits in six innings. That effort enabled him to be the only Los Angeles pitcher to record a win against the Phillies during last year's series.
"I try not to think about last year," Kuroda said through his interpreter. "This is a new season. But having said that, they obviously have a powerful lineup and I was able to pitch well against them. Perhaps there is a little bit of confidence, but like I said, this is a new season, and I just have to pitch my best game against them."
Kuroda has made a habit out of producing some of his finest efforts against the Phillies. In three career regular season starts against them, he's 1-0 with a 0.95 ERA. His only outing against Philadelphia this year occurred on June 6, when he allowed two hits and pitched around three walks in six scoreless innings for a no-decision.
"There's some thoughts in the back of my head, but he's a good pitcher," Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino said. "We faced him this year, but you can also put all of that aside."
As much as the Phillies might want to push aside the past they've experienced against Kuroda, Victorino provided further proof that it is easier said than done.
After being asked a question that simply queried about Kuroda's abilities, an unprovoked Victorino provided the reminder that Kuroda had buzzed him with a fastball during Game 3 of last year's NLCS.
Knowing that there was some reason to retaliate because Dodgers catcher Russell Martin had been hit earlier in the game, Victorino pointed to his ribs and attempted to tell the Japanese hurler that it was OK to hit him in the ribs and dangerous to come up around his head.
"It doesn't matter about facing or seeing him again," Victorino said. "It was all heat of the moment."
When Kuroda takes the mound on Sunday night, he won't be worrying about the incident with Victorino or the fact that he's just a little more than two months removed from that line drive that brought reason to wonder if he'd be given another opportunity to pitch in a game with this kind of significance.
"My confidence level is there," Kuroda said. "Physically, I'm feeling really well. And I think as I go into the game, my confidence level is going to go up. So I'm not worried about it right now."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.